There’s no stopping the keto diet, especially now that New Year’s resolution season is in full swing. If you’ve decided to commit to the high-fat, very-low-carb plan after hearing about its touted perks — a sharper memory, less brain fog, more energy, stabilized blood sugar, or most common, quick weight loss — there are a few things you need to know first.
Approaching this fad diet fully informed may better set you up for success:
5 Myths About the Keto Diet
Myth 1: Your Body Goes Into Ketoacidosis
Reality: It’s ketosis that causes the fat burn in keto.
When you go on a keto diet, you enter ketosis, a metabolic state where your body uses fat for fuel (rather than glucose, its preferred energy source). During this process, the body breaks down fat and converts it into ketone bodies. This is not the same thing as diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes that happens when your body does not get enough insulin and ketone levels are simultaneously high.
Myth 2: You Can Go on and off Keto and Still Keep the Weight Off
Reality: Seesawing on keto will just lead you to gain all the weight back.
Keto has become such a fad that people don’t understand what they’re getting into and jump into the diet, says Audrey Fleck, RDN, an integrative and functional dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Because of that, people often follow the keto diet one day and then eat carbs the next, she says. But you’re not going to reap the potential benefits of sustained ketosis this way.
Myth 3: Everyone Has the Same Carb Needs
Reality: How many carbs you should eat really depends on your personal health.
When you start a very-low-carb diet like keto, you may not realize how low in carbs it is. Followers typically consume 20 to 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates a day, often beginning on the lower end of that spectrum to help the body enter ketosis. Nonetheless, depending on factors (like physical activity), you may be able to go higher, says Fleck. She recommends teaming up with a dietitian who can calculate your nutritional needs. What’s more, sometimes it’s not even necessary to go keto, she says. “Some people have genetic issues with using fat for energy, making the diet even more difficult or ineffective for them,” says Fleck.
Myth 4: Keto Gives You Permission to Eat as Much Bacon and Butter as You Want
Reality: Keto calls for prioritizing unsaturated fat in your diet.
Yes, keto is a diet rich in fats. But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to fry up a pound of bacon in the morning. “The ketogenic diet doesn’t give you the green light to eat all types of fats,” says dietitian Jill Keene, RDN, in White Plains, New York. The healthiest way to load up on fats is to limit saturated fats, like bacon and sausage, and to fill your diet with heart-healthy unsaturated fats, like avocados, olive oil, and flaxseed, along with nuts in moderation.
Myth 5: Because Veggies and Fruits Can Be High in Carbs, You Can’t Eat Them on Keto
Reality: You need to eat produce to avoid constipation, a nasty keto side effect.
Fruits and veggies are sources of carbohydrates. (The only things that will be carb-free are oils, butter, and meat.) Still, that doesn’t mean you should avoid produce. In fact, these whole, unprocessed foods are important sources of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber — the latter of which is critical for avoiding constipation, a common keto side effect. Keene recommends nonstarchy veggies, like zucchini, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, and broccoli, plus small amounts of lower-carb fruits, like berries — think strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. That said, there are still some healthy foods that are not allowed on the keto diet, so you’ll want to consult the common keto diet food list first.
Myth 6: A Keto Diet Is a Plan That Is High in Protein
Reality: It’s low-carb, but it’s far from the Atkins Diet.
Throwing together a bowl of eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast and a big cut of steak for dinner sounds like it’s on plan, but protein needs to be eaten in moderation. (This is also how keto and Atkins differ.) “Excess protein can be converted into glucose, spiking your blood sugar, taking your body out of ketosis,” says Keene. What’s more, she points out, “the breakdown of amino acids in protein can also lead to increased ketones, which can be problematic for a keto dieter who already has high levels of ketones in their body,” she says. If you’re unsure about how much you should consume, a registered dietitian can help guide you through the right macronutrient breakdown.
Myth 7: The Keto Diet Is the Best Way to Lose Weight
Reality: There’s no right diet for everyone.
Just because your friend lost weight successfully on keto (or it seems as if everyone is talking about it) doesn’t mean keto is the diet that’s best for you. “The biggest misnomer I come across in my practice is that [a keto diet] is the end-all, be-all answer to losing weight,” says Keene. There are a lot of trendy diets out there, but in reality, she says, success comes from finding an eating plan that you can be consistent with. (Indeed, research published in November 2015 in the journal Cell suggested that people have different blood sugar responses to the same foods, so there is no one diet that’s the answer.) “I help my clients find a way to eat that they feel good about, don’t obsess over, and gets them to their goals,” says Keene. We know we’re harping a lot on talking to a registered dietitian about all this, but before going keto, you should do just that.